Thinking About Ice Age Art at the British Museum.

*Spoiler alert: for anyone who has yet to see the exhibition and doesn’t want to have too much revealed before they go read with caution!*

This week I’ve been hard at work finishing off one of my thesis chapters where I spend a little time discussing the significance of art and archaeology. Consequently, I found myself mulling over a lot of considerations about the ways in which art process can inform archaeological process and vice versa. A few weeks ago I was down in London for a couple of meetings and luckily managed to get myself a ticket to the newest exhibition at the British Museum – Ice Age Art: Arrival of the Modern Mind.  Initially I’d held off writing a blog post about the exhibition straight away as I thought it best to mull over the experience for a little while first rather than just gush about how wonderful it was, but really, that’s all I want to do!

Got my hands on one of the last 3 tickets that day, lucky!

Got my hands on one of the last 3 tickets that day, lucky!

The artefacts are displayed very elegantly and simply and although information and interpretation panels are present (and once fantastic video clip detailing an experimental reproduction of the Lion Man figurine), they are unobtrusive and to an extent allow the artefacts to speak for themselves. Ancient art is juxtaposed with sketches and paintings by contemporary artists which gives the impression of almost narrowing the gap between prehistory and modern abstraction. The presentation feels much more like an art exhibition than a museum exhibit which I enjoyed as it allowed the artefacts to be appreciated in their own right, with the aesthetics of their materiality and form taking the limelight from interpretation in a sense.

The Ice Age Art: Arrival of the Modern Mind exhibition, British Museum.

The Ice Age Art: Arrival of the Modern Mind exhibition, British Museum (credit).

Don Valley Figurines, British Museum.

Don Valley Figurines, British Museum (credit).

When I visited the exhibition I didn’t use the audio guide so I can’t comment on its influence on my experience of the exhibit. However, without headphones as you wander around ambient sound can be heard from one creatively inspired installation towards the end of the exhibit which aims to re-create the ambience and atmosphere of a cave where abstractions of colour and shapes flicker across the surface. The sounds of echoing drips give an almost desolate, lonely feel to the objects, perhaps suggestive of the great distance  in time between their creation and their discovery. The exhibition gives the artefacts a sense of having a contemporary significance, while at the same time emphasising the vast silences in time between us and the artists who carved them. Certainly an effective and challenging means of picturing the past in the present.

As Andy Jones says in the video clip, to see all these artefacts in the one place really is extraordinary. Usually you would have to travel all over Europe to see them, so if you do get a chance to visit before the exhibition closes on the 26th May 2013 you really should!


  1. I still haven’t organised myself enough to go to this exhibition, even though I have been up near the British Museum a lot more recently! I will definitely have to go along if it now has the Alice Watterson seal of approval. For a moment I thought that you had taken some sneaky video and photos of the exhibit. Anyway good and interesting blog entry as usual.


      But seriously, thanks Jon 🙂 yeah can you tell I’m procrastinating from writing my thesis chapter? I’ve written about 5 blog entries in the past week! You should definitely go along to the BM as soon as you get the chance though, it’s really fantastic!

      And for the record, this is the only seal of approval I trust…

  2. Ingrid Hansen · · Reply

    Now that you have convinced us We must see the art, Would you send it to Seattle?.

    1. Hi Ingrid, hope you’re well! Oh I wish I could, it really is a fantastic collection! 🙂

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